Total Literacy

We know the arts, we know emergent and early literacy, and we know how to integrate the curriculum for maximum impact.  When working with the Connecticut Commission on the Arts’ HOT Schools Project, Lyman School had a group of first graders who were not reading in April.  After a six-week, twelve-lesson professional development program called HOT Readers, 2/3 of the children were reading!  You can read more about this in Total Literacy:  The Arts in the Literacy Classroom.

Put simply, Total Literacy is the most complete way to teach emergent and early readers. By using strategies from music, movement, visual arts, and drama; children not only comprehend the language of words more successfully, they also become literate in the other four languages. They achieve TOTAL literacy.

Basic Elements of the Total Literacy Approach.

  • Total Literacy utilizes a learning sequence and arts-infusion strategies that overlay existing activities and materials. In other words, it is not a reading program; rather it is a delivery system that works with any existing literacy materials for emergent and early readers. Through the use of music, movement, visual art, and drama, the instruction in the language of words is vastly more powerful.
  • Children learn how to learn.  The artistic processes of creating, performing, responding and connecting become the delivery system for content, regardless of discipline. Music, movement, image, and words are all considered equal languages, and there is teaching in and through all four languages in this approach.
  • Implementation consists of professional development and support, as well as Total Literacy support materials and literature. Through a combination of workshops, videos, model demonstration lessons, and conferences/coaching, teachers expand their understanding and skill sets in the arts. The timeline depends on the organization’s level of commitment. The professional staff is introduced to all the basics and then given a number of sample lessons to try with their classrooms. Over time, they develop more strategies and ideas, and eventually create their own units with minimal guidance.
  • The heart of the approach is teamwork. Total Literacy facilitates teachers working as a collaborative unit, classroom and arts teachers together. Every teacher has skills that can benefit students, but they can also benefit colleagues. By sharing ideas and eventually creating units across disciplines, children learn a concept through many lenses, achieving deeper understanding through higher order synthesis.

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